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Last chance at the bandwagon

Cards overcome doubters, emerge as genuine champs

Posted: Saturday October 28, 2006 1:44AM; Updated: Saturday October 28, 2006 10:06AM
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Food for thought: World Series MVP David Eckstein and Scott Spiezio have two championship rings ... and A-Rod has zero.
Food for thought: World Series MVP David Eckstein and Scott Spiezio have two championship rings ... and A-Rod has zero.
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ST. LOUIS -- Consider this a mea culpa. Or, more appropriately in my case, a mea stinka.

Got to give it up to the Cardinals now. Finally, through the sea of red, I am starting to see the light.

These Cards all got together, got healthy and got great, almost simultaneously, no less. Henceforth, I will stop doubting the greatest 83-win team known to mankind.

One hundred and 77 games into their bumpy yet ultimately satisfying ride, it is finally time to hop aboard the World Champion Cardinals bandwagon. Hey, better late than never.

I've got to hand it to the Cardinals. They pitched superbly, fielded expertly and executed efficiently to beat the Tigers in a tidy five games.

They did a lot of surprising things in October. And to their credit, one thing they almost never did was say, "I told you so.'' Or the sports' version of such a phrase, which usually goes something like this, "Man, nobody thought we could do this.'' Or worse: "We shocked the world.''

In their case, that would have been true. Hardly anyone thought they could get past San Diego, much less beat the Mets and Tigers. Not me, that's sure.

They should take a bow. But first, many more notes from my final World Series scorecard:

• David Eckstein is the perfect symbol for the unpredictable postseason, the perfect MVP. A little man with a heart the size of Missouri; quite a few times, he's shown us. And maybe, just maybe, some of us will start to believe. "He's a tough SOB,'' his manager Tony La Russa said. "He's also a very good player. He's more than heart and guts.'

Eckstein has now won two rings as a starting shortstop, one in each league. Not to rub it in. but he and Scott Spiezio are now each up two rings on A-Rod.

Nobody's gotten more out of rejects than the Cardinals. Jeff Weaver was a virtual giveaway from the Angels. Preston Wilson, a giveaway from the rival Astros, no less.

Weaver was quite possibly the worst starting pitcher in the American League the first two months of this season, and ultimately, he lost his job to his kid brother, Jared. Yet, he pitched lights-out in the Game 5 clincher, a 4-2 Cardinals victory, and really, throughout the postseason.

Weaver was said by Cardinals people to have been picked up because he was "competitive'' and "available.'' How flattering.

Cardinals pitching Dave Duncan turned Weaver around. It's time to stop considering Leo Mazzone the best pitching coach in baseball.

Weaver's the last guy Detroit wanted to lose to. Tigers people don't like him very much. Todd Jones said so, the others thought the same.

Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright was the under-publicized version of Jonathan Papelbon. But Wainwright adds a devastating curveball to the mix. Another similarity: both will likely be starters next year.

In a postseason some would describe as upside down, there's no better example than Yadier Molina. He hit .216 in the regular season yet hardly ever made an out this postseason. Molina was Johnny Bench.

In a switch, if Molina was the Cardinals' best hitter, Albert Pujols was their best fielder.

As of today, La Russa, who followed his friend, Sparky Anderson, as a champion manager in both leagues, is a Hall of Famer. Maybe his 1988, 1990 and 2004 teams fell flat in October. But this was the work of a genius.

La Russa mixed and matched perfectly, he set up the rotation perfectly, he did everything perfectly. Even Scott Rolen would have to admit that.


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